Busy Grizzlies squeeze in visit from Thunder

NBA

The Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t scheduled to meet in the first half of the NBA season.

However, after the Grizzlies had several games postponed in January due to COVID-19 protocols, the NBA added a meeting between the teams Wednesday in Memphis.

The schedule change gave Memphis a stretch of four home games in five days, beginning with a 144-113 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.

The Grizzlies are the first NBA team to face such a stretch since the 2016-17 season.

Memphis has played just two back-to-backs so far this season but will play two this week.

The Grizzlies are rolling with the changes, and the rhythm of this season’s compressed schedule will help Memphis make it through the stretch, guard Tyus Jones believes.

“This year, with how quickly the turnarounds have been and how consistently they’ve been, you’ve been mixing in a lot more lighter days just because you’re playing every other day for extended periods of time,” Jones said.

Memphis is 1-1 on the second night of back-to-backs.

The Grizzlies end their week hosting the Detroit Pistons and the Phoenix Suns on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Before the Tuesday loss, Memphis hadn’t given up more than 134 points in any game this season and the Grizzlies hadn’t lost by more than 19.

Oklahoma City is coming off a 115-104 home defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. The Thunder fell behind by 24 points in the second half before taking a lead late, but they wound up losing for the fifth time in seven games.

The Thunder have been plenty competitive, though. The past seven games have been decided by an average of 4.4 points.

“We continue to stay resilient, continue to fight,” Thunder center Al Horford said.

Oklahoma City has done it mostly without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The team’s starting point guard and leading scorer has missed four consecutive games and six of the past eight due to a left knee sprain.

Over the past four games, Luguentz Dort has averaged 18.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Dort scored a team-high 23 points in the Tuesday loss, his second-best total of the season.

The second-year player out of Arizona State is gaining attention for his ability to draw offensive fouls.

“Very few players have that ability and being so young, he’s figuring out how to put himself in position,” Horford said, saying that Dort’s ability to frustrate screeners led to plenty of the fouls.

The Thunder are 2-2 on the second night of back-to-backs.

Horford, 34, has yet to play on the second night of a back-to-back this season.

Memphis has been without De’Anthony Melton and Desmond Bane recently. Melton has missed five consecutive games due to shoulder soreness while Bane has missed three games in a row following the death of his great-grandmother.

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said Tuesday that Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow, neither of whom has played this season, were getting closer to making their season debuts. Jackson underwent offseason knee surgery while Winslow is recovering from a hip injury.

–Field Level Media

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